Israel C. (Israel Cook) Russell.

Glaciers of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology online

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seen from a considerable elevation. Toward its lower end it is very
much broken up by transverse and longitudinal crevasses ; this is due to
the fact that it has here cut through the more yielding strata of volcanic
rock, and come upon an underlying and unconformable mass of syenite.
The ice front [Fig. B, Plate$>] at its base is about 500 feet in height, and
the walls of lava which bound its sides rise from 1000 to 1500 feet above
the surface of the ice, generally in sheer precipices.

" The bed of the Cowlitz glacier is generally parallel to that of the
Nisqually, though its curves are less marked ; the ice cascades in which
each originates fall on either side of a black cliff of bedded lava and
breccia scarcely a thousand feet in horizontal thickness, while the mouths
of the glaciers, if I may be allowed the expression, are about three miles
apart. From the jutting edge of this cliff hang enormous icicles from 75
to 100 feet in length. The slope of this glacier is less regular, being
broken by subordinate ice cascades. Like the Nisqually, its lower
extremity stretches out, as it were, into the forest, the slopes on either
side, where not too steep, being covered with the mountain fir, Picea
nobilis, for several hundred feet above the level of the ice, while the
Pinus fiexilis grows at least 2000 feet higher than the mouth of the

" The general course of this glacier is south, but at its extremity it
bends to the eastward, apparently deflected from its course by a cliff of
older felsitic rock more resisting than the lava. The consequence of this
deflection is a predominance of longitudinal over transverse crevasses at
this point, and an unusually large moraine at its western side, which
rises several hundred feet above the surface of the glaciers, and partakes
of the character of both lateral and terminal moraines ; the main medial
moraine of a glacier joins this near its lower end. [The crevassed and
moraine-covered surface of Cowlitz glacier is shown in Fig. A, Plate 8.]
This medial moraine proceeds from the cliff which bounds the ice-
cascade source of the glacier on the north, and brings down a dark
porous lava which is only found high np on the mountain near the crater.
The position of the medial moraine on the glacier would indicate that at


least half its mass came from the spur on the east, which is probably the

" This spur, comprehending the whole mass between the Cowlitz and
White River glaciers, has the shape of a triangle, whose apex is formed
by a huge pinnacle of rock which, as its bedding indicates, once formed
part of the crest of the mountain, but now stands isolated, a jagged peak
rising about 3000 feet above the glaciers at its foot, so steep that neither
ice nor snow rests upon it. One of the tributaries to the Cowlitz glacier
from this spur brings down with it a second medial moraine, which is
traceable to the mouth of the glacier, though in general these tributary
glaciers bring no medial moraines.

"On the eastern slopes of this spur, between the two above-named
glaciers, spread secondary glaciers frequently of great width, but, owing
to the limited height of their initial points, of inconsiderable length.
These end generally in perpendicular cliffs overhanging the rocky amphi-
theatres at the heads of the smaller streams which flow eastward into the
Cowlitz. Looking up from the bottom of one of these amphitheatres one
sees a semicircular wall of nearly 2000 feet of sheer rock, surmounted
by about 500 feet of ice, from under which small streams of water issue,
falling in silvery cascades onto the green bottom below.

" A ridge of high jagged peaks connects this spur with the main range
of the Cascade mountains in the east, and forms the watershed between
the White and Cowlitz rivers. From the connecting saddle one can look
northward across the brink of six glaciers, which all contribute to the
White river; of these the first four come from the triangular spur
already mentioned, and are of comparatively little extent. The first two
are, however, interesting from the veined structure which they exhibit ;
they both originate in an irregularly oblong basin, having the shape
somewhat of an inclined ellipse, turning on its long diameter, the outlets
of the glacier being opposite the foci. Seen from a high point the veins
form concentric lines generally parallel to the sides of the basin ; the
ends of those towards the center gradually bend round until they join
together in form of a figure S, and finally just above the outlets form
two small ellipses. They thus constantly preserve a direction at right
angles to that of the pressure exerted downward by the movement of the
ice mass, and upward by the resistance to this movement of the rock
mass between the two outlets.

"The main White River glacier, the grandest of the whole, pours
straight down from the rim of the crater in a northeasterly direction, and


pushes ite extremity farther out into the valley than any of the others.
It* greatest width on the steep slope of the mountain must be four or five
miles, narrowing towards its extremity to about a mile and a half ; its
length can be scarcely less than ten miles. The great eroding power of
glacial ice is strikingly illustrated in this glacier, which seems to have
cut down and carried away on the northeastern side of the mountain, fully
a third of its mass. The thickness of rock cut away, as shown by the
walls on either side, and the isolated peak at the head of the triangular
spur, in which the bedding of the successive flows of lava is very regular
and conformable, may be estimated at somewhat over a mile. Of the
thickness of the ice of the glacier I have no data for making estimates,
though it may probably be reckoned in thousands of feet.

" It has two principal medial moraines, which, where crossed by us,
formed little mountain ridges having peaks nearly 100 feet high. The
sources of these moraines are cliffs on the steeper mountain slope, which
seem mere Mack specks in the great white field above ; between these are
great cascades, and below immense transverse crevasses, which we had no
time or means to visit. The surface water flows in rills and brooks on
the lower portion of the glacier, and moulins are of frequent occurrence.
\\ '< vi-iten! one double moulin where two brooks poured into two circular
wells, each about ten feet in diameter, joined together at the surface but
separated below; we could not approach near enough the edge to see the of cither, but, as stones thrown in sent back no sound, judged
they must be very deep.

" This glacier forks near the foot of the steeper mountain slope, and
sends off a branch to the northward, which forms a large stream flowing
down to join the main stream fifteen or twenty miles below. Looking
down on this from a high, overhanging peak, we could see, as it were
under our feet, a little lake of deep blue water, about an eighth of a mile
in diameter, standing in the brown gravel-covered ice of the end of the
glacier. On the back of the rocky spur which divides these two glaciers,
a secondary glacier has scooped out a basin-shaped bed, and sends down
an ice stream having all the characteristics of a true glacier, but its
ice disappears several miles above the mouths of the large glaciers on
cither side. Were nothing known of the movements of glaciers, an
instance like this would seem to afford sufficient evidence that such
movement exists, and that, ^ravity is the main motive; power. l<Yom our
northern and southern points we could trace the beds of several large
glaciers to the west of us, whose upper and lower portions only were







visible, the main body of the ice lying hidden by the high intervening

" Ten large glaciers observed by us, and at least half as many more
hidden by the mountain from our view, proceeding thus from an isolated
peak, formed a most remarkable system, and one worthy of a careful and
detailed study."

A graphic account of an ascent of " Takhoma " [Rainier] was pub-
lished in the Atlantic Monthly 1 by General Hazard Stevens, who ascended
the peak in August, 1870. Frequent references are made in this essay
to the numerous ice streams that originate on the mountain, but no
detailed account of glacial phenomena is presented.

Recent Ascents. Since the pioneer ascents of Mount Rainier
described above were made, the mountain has been ascended by many
tourists, and now that the route to the summit is familiar it appears that
the climb is not so difficult as at first supposed. Several excursion parties
have succeeded in reaching the summit, and have even passed the night
in the crater at the top. Ladies have been members of these expeditions
and have experienced no great fatigue or hardship from their ascent. A
graphic and entertaining account of one of the more recent ascents, by
Rev. Ernest C. Smith, in which the luxuriance and beauty of the
vegetation clothing the lower slopes of the majestic peak are contrasted
with the barrenness and desolation of the snow fields at the summit,
appeared in Appalachia, 2 and is accompanied by a number of excellent
photographs of glaciers.

The magnificence of the scenery about Mount Rainier and in the
neighboring Cascade mountains, as well as a widely spread popular
interest in the glaciers and other natural features of that region, has led
to an effort to have Congress set aside a reservation to be known as the
Washington National Park, and embracing an area of about 25 miles
square, of which the summit of Mount Rainier is the culminating point.


In August, 1866, Professor A. Wood ascended Mount Hood, and
later in the year gave a short account of his observations before the Cali-
fornia Academy of Sciences. 3 During his ascent he encountered chasms of

i Vol. 38, 1876, p. 513. 2 V ol. 7, 1894, pp. 185-205.

8 Proceedings, vol. 3, p. 292.


invisible depth in solid blue ice, in which the rush of subglacial streams
could be heard. From the summit of the peak a deep canon, eroded
in the steep southeast slope of the mountain, was seen to be partly
filled by a glacier. Both terminal and lateral moraines could be dis-
tinguished on the surface of the ice, and a torrent of water issued from
its terminus.

Observation by Arnold Hague. In a contribution to King's article
on the glaciers of the Pacific coast, 1 already referred to, the following ac-
count of the existing glaciers of Mount Hood is given by Arnold Hague :

tr The crater [of Mount Hood] is nearly one-half a mile wide from
east to west. The wall upon the inner side rises above the snow and ice
filling the basin some 450 feet, while upon the outer side it falls off
abruptly for 2000 feet. This rim of the crater is very narrow ; in many
places the crest is not more than 2 feet wide.

" Three distinct glaciers have their origin in this basin, each the
source of a stream of considerable size ; the glaciers of the White, the
Sandy, and the Little Sandy rivers.

" The White River glacier heads on the eastern side of the crater and
extends in a southeasterly direction. It is barely a quarter of a mile
wide at the head, and about 2 miles long, extending 500 feet below the
line of the timber growth upon the side of the mountain.

" Near the top of the crater a broad transverse crevasse cuts entirely
across the glacier. Freshly fallen snow overhangs the perpendicular walls
of ice, making it exceedingly dangerous to approach. At one point only
the fissure may be crossed by an ice bridge. Further down the slope of
the glacier transverse crevasses are of frequent occurrence, running nearly
parallel with each other ; most of them are, however, quite narrow. One
broad chasm presented clean, sharply cut vertical sides, for nearly 200
feet in depth, of clear deep-blue ice. Marginal crevasses, ice caves, and
caverns occur. Many of the -latter are very beautiful and afford fine
opportunities for the study of the laminated and veined structure of
glacial ice.

"Very many of the phenomena attendant upon glaciers elsewhere
may be observed here. The terminal and lateral moraines are well marked
and extensive. Medial moraines, however, do not appear, because the
glacier has no tributaries. Glacial grooving, glacial debris, and boulders
are quite characteristic.

1 American Journal of Science, Third Series, vol. 1, 1871, p. 165.





(Photograph by Wm. Notman & Son.)


" The glacier of Sandy river is separated from that of the White
river by a high, bare ridge, standing boldly up above the ice and dividing
the crater into two parts. The glacier descends to the southwest. It is
fed by the snow and ice of a somewhat larger area of country, and is
considerably broader than the glacier of White river. In length they
are about equal.

" An immense amount of glacial debris must be annually carried down
the streams whose waters are heavily charged with fine, light gray trachytic
sand, brought down from above by this moving mass of ice. The
character of the rock, a brittle, porous trachytic, is such that under the
wearing action of the glacier it would be easily eroded and ground to fine
powder. The very extensive accumulation of sand banks, which are
constantly forming at the mouth of the stream where it empties into the
Columbia river, bears ample evidence of the fact.

" The Little Sandy river, a tributary of the main stream, with which
it unites a few miles below the base of the mountain, has its source in
the third glacier which is formed on the western flank of the peak, separated
from the. Sandy by a high wall, a somewhat broken, irregular ridge of
trachytic, which extends along the southwest slope of the mountain.

" The upper portion of the neve of the glacier is inclined at quite a
high angle, and is considerably fissured by broad, deep crevasses. It has
cut into the sides of the mountain a deep, narrow gorge, with bare, precip-
itous cliffs. The glacier and the valley of the Little Sandy are both
quite narrow.

" One of the most marked geological and topographical features of
Mount Hood and the vicinity is its very extensive system of extinct
glaciers, which everywhere gouged out immense trough-shaped valleys,
cutting down deeply into the earlier trachytic lava flow of the old volcano.
The entire network of valleys was connected with two main glaciers,
that of Hood river on the north and the Sandy on the south. The
ancient White River glacier was undoubtedly very large, but, as far as my
observations have yet extended, had no tributaries."


Mr. E. T. Colman, of the English Alpine Club, ascended Mount
Baker in 1869. A popular account of this excursion appeared in Harper's
Magazine, 1 in which snow fields, glaciers, crevasses, etc., are described in

i Vol. 39, 1869, p. 793.


such a manner as to indicate that glaciers of very considerable magnitude
are now flowing down the mountain. The peak has since been ascended
by several parties. The accompanying illustration of the summit of the
mountain is from a photograph taken by Professor E. S. Ingraham, of
Seattle, Washington, and shows that glaciers of conspicuous size may
originate in unsheltered situations.


Mr. J. S. Diller, of the United States Geological Survey, has made
various reconnaissances and surveys from Mount Shasta northward to the
Canadian boundary, and has observed glaciers of considerable magnitude
on Mount Jefferson, Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, and Mount St.
Helens. Mount Scott and Mount Tielson were found to be free from
glacier ice. The group of peaks known as the Three Sisters is considered
by Mr. Diller as probably affording the most interesting field for glacial
studies in the United States, with the exception of Alaska. The glaciers
amid this group of peaks attracted the attention of Dr. J. S. Newberry,
while connected with the Pacific railroad surveys in 1855, but no report
of his observations has been published.

When the lofty summits of the Cascade mountains are more thoroughly
explored, it will undoubtedly be found that many more are glacier-crowned
than have been reported up to the present time. The glaciers of the
Cascade region are all of the alpine type, but are somewhat peculiar for
the reason that they radiate from isolated peaks which rise far above the
neighboring mountains. These peaks are all of volcanic origin, and
lingering manifestations of internal heat are to be seen in the hot springs
and fumaroles in their craters. Far down their flanks, and in some
instances for miles out on the surrounding plains, there are moraines and
other evidences showing that in Pleistocene times the climatic changes,
which caused half of t the continent to be mantled in ice, were there in
operation also, and gave origin to glaciers of the same general character
as those still existing, but of far greater extent.



THE Cordilleras pass northward from the United States and traverse
the western part of Canada. As already stated, the general mountain
system subdivides northward and is composed of several series that are
distinct and separate both topographically and geologically. The northern
part of the system is far from being completely explored, but many
rugged peaks are known to reach the limit of perennial snow, and to be
covered in part with glaciers. About the only mountaineering that has
been done in Canada has been in the Selkirk and neighboring ranges,
recently made accessible by the building of the Canadian Pacific railroad.
When explorers have conquered other mountains, there is reason to
believe from the reports of hunters, prospectors, and others, that our
knowledge of the ice fields will be greatly extended, and that many fine
examples of glaciers, of the alpine type, will be found clustering around
the higher summits.

The glaciers of the Selkirk mountains are known principally from
explorations made by Rev. W. S. Green, in 1888. At least one
example, the Illecellewaet glacier, is in sight from Glacier house on the
Canadian Pacific railroad, and has attracted the attention of thousands of
travelers from car windows. Views of this easily accessible glacier are
given on Pis. H^^-i&r The scenery of the Selkirks, as seen from near the
summit of a rugged peak called Mount Sir Donald, near Glacier house,
is described by Green as follows : 1

" We were on a pinnacle of rock, according to the barometer, just
10,000 feet above the sea. On all sides were vast precipices, and down
these precipices our eyes ranged to the green, forest-clad valley of Beaver
creek, the river being visible for many miles, winding, with an infinity
of curves, 6000 feet below us.

" Beyond the river rose a range of hills with flattish plateaus on the

top, flecked with snow. Still farther to the eastward, range rose upon

range, fading into purple and blue. Above them all the Rockies, bearing

silvery white glaciers, formed a sharply defined sky line, and were visible

1 "Among the Selkirk Glaciers" (Macmillan & Co., London, 1890), pp. 86, 87.


for over 150 miles. This wonderful panorama constituted our view to
the eastward. To the southward it was totally different ; in that direc-
tion the undulating fields of glaciers lay like a great soft white blanket
covering up everything for ten miles, beyond which other snow-seamed
crags rose, rivaling, probably in some cases surpassing, Sir Donald in
elevation. To the westward other ranges were to be seen, and one high
ridge of black precipices capped by ice rose high above the glacier and
seemed to dominate the scene. . . . Beyond the valley of the Illecellewaet
to the northwest, some fine peaks were visible; one dark, bare rock
pinnacle bearing northwest was most striking, and, no doubt, over 10,000
feet high. Our view to the northward was blocked by the last great
crags of Sir Donald, from which we were cut off by a notch 200 feet
deep. At its bottom a narrow rock arSte joined the precipice below us
with the face of the final peak. Below this arSte, on one side, lay the
glacier visible from Glacier house (the Illecellewaet glacier) ; and on the
eastern side, in a deep hollow, a fine glacier which we named the Sir
Donald glacier commences its course, and flows outward in beautiful
fan-like structure, in the direction of Beaver creek."

During the explorations carried on by Greene, the Illecellewaet
glacier t was traversed to near its source, and several secondary glaciers
discovered. A sketch map of 500 square miles, embracing many
rugged peaks and a score of small neve fields and glaciers, was con-
structed, and many photographs taken. With this excellent beginning
it is hoped that others as w^ell qualified for mountaineering as the dis-
tinguished writer just quoted will seek for new wonders among the mag-
nificent mountains of Canada.

The present writer visited the Illecellewaet glacier in the spring of
1891, and saw something of the wonders of the Selkirks. My visit,
although brief, served to confirm the enthusiastic descriptions of that
remarkable region given by many travelers. The glaciers about the
higher peaks, descending, in some instances, into the deep -green
coniferous forests, and producing striking contrasts of color, are of the
same general character as the glaciers of the High Sierra and the Cascade
mountains. The extent of true glacial ice is greater than is presented
by the ice bodies of California, and the shining snow fields from which
it flows are broader than the similar areas on the mountains of Oregon
and Washington. In comparison with the glaciers of Central Europe,
the Selkirk glaciers lack the strongly defined, stream-like character of the
Mer de Glace, or the Gorner glacier, for example, and. in general, do not



(Photograph by Wm. Notman & Son.)

(Photograph by Win. Notman & Son.)


display the distinctive features of alpine glaciers so well as the archetypes
of that class of ice bodies.

Glaciers occur farther north in Canada on the various divisions of the
Cordilleras, more especially in the region drained by the Stikine, and to
the northeast of Mount St. Elias ; but these are so closely associated with
the vast ice bodies of Alaska, that in the present sketch political bounda-
ries will be ignored and all of the glaciers of the far Northwest included
in a single chapter.



IN purchasing Alaska the United States not only acquired a vast
territory rich in natural resources, but added new wonders to her already
varied scenery. As shown on the preceding pages, the glaciers of the
United States, previous to the purchase of Alaska, were by no means
insignificant, although at that time almost unheard of, and even now but
imperfectly explored. When we include Alaska and the adjacent portion
of Canada, the field for glacial study becomes almost unlimited.

The glaciers of the Alaskan region are of the alpine and piedmont
types. Masses of buried ice and frozen subsoil in the tundra region
bordering Bering sea and the Arctic ocean and along arms of the great
rivers are not here included, and will be described in advance. All of
the true glaciers are confined to the southern portion of the territory and
depend on favorable combinations of climatic and topographical conditions
for their extent and geographical distribution. The mountains of the
Alaskan region occur mostly along its southern border, adjacent to the
Pacific ocean, and attain their greatest elevation near the 141st meridian.
The culminating peak, so far as at present known, is Mount Logan,
19,500 feet high. Second in rank stands Mount St. Elias, 18,023 feet in
elevation. These and a host of sister peaks rise from a vast neve region
having a general elevation of 8000 or 9000 feet. The entire Pacific
border of Alaska is rugged and mountainous, and presents some of the
most sublime coast scenery to be found in the world. The currents of

Online LibraryIsrael C. (Israel Cook) RussellGlaciers of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology → online text (page 8 of 24)